Introduction to Criminological Theory

Topics: Criminology, Sociology, Crime Pages: 7 (1135 words) Published: November 1, 2010
Introduction to Criminological Theory
Classicism, Biological and Psychological Positivist theories Dr. Ruth McAlister Week 3

Lecture Aim:
The aim of this lecture is to introduce students to the birth of criminology as a discipline and to outline early thinking on criminality

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this lecture students will:
Have a better understanding of the ‘birth’ of criminology Appreciate the pros and cons of early criminological theory more generally in attempting to understand why some people are criminal Be able to argue (or not) if people are ‘born’ criminal or whether there is such a thing as a ‘criminal mind’


Lecture Format
• Introduction and discussion of classical theory • Introduction and discussion of biological positivism • Introduction and discussion of psychological positivism

What is theory?
 A way of thinking about the world  When you engage with theory you try to make sense of what the author has argued  It has a deliberate purpose forcing us to look at the world in new ways  It is often deliberately contentious giving you something to argue against or for  Theory attempts to ensure there is an ongoing conversation about key ideas, as well as changes within society

Birth of criminology associated with the classical school of 18th C Classical criminology = people choose a criminal life Positivism = ‘features’ of individual may/may not make them criminal Biological – are people are ‘born’ criminal? Psychological – is there a criminal personality?


Classical criminology: A background
Humans are rational actors Shift from feudal to industrial society Impact of American and French revolutions

18th Century Classical School
 On Crimes and Punishments Cesare de Beccaria (1764)  Propensity for crime exists in everyone  Law should be simple and clear  Punishment should be dictated by legislation rather than courts  Excessive punishment is not just  Punishment should be proportionate, effective and swift, aimed at deterrence

Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican design
 British philosopher  Pleasure-pain principle  Death penalty used for murder  Influenced development of modern prison, designing the panopticon


Stateville Correctional Center: USA

Classical theory: summary and Critique(s)
Human beings rational & have free will Regulation of crime through modern criminal justice system Based on certainty & efficiency; Prevention, deterrence & proportionate punishment Critique(s): Rationality and free will Power and inequality Assumes people respond in predicted ways to punishment

An introduction to Positivism: Key attributes
 Methods of natural sciences applicable to the social world  Facts as basis of scientific knowledge  Facts distinguished from values  The laws of natural science could be applied to criminology


Biological Positivism

 Criminality associated with abnormality or defectiveness  Phrenology and physiognomy 18th and 19th century

Cesare Lombroso
The White Man and the Coloured Man (1871) La Donna Delinquente (the criminal woman) (1893)

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) The ‘atavistic’ criminal:
L’uomo Delinquente (the criminal man, 1876)  “…deviation in the head size…excessive dimensions of the jaw, eye defects, ears of unusual size, nose twisted, upturned or flattened in thieves…too few ribs, chin receding, excessive arm length…”(Lombroso, 1876, cited in Wolfgang, 1960:186).


Typology of Criminals - Lombroso
Born Criminal Insane Criminal Occasional Criminal Criminals of passion Contribution to eugenics movement

Biological positivism Genetic factors
Social Darwinism & Eugenics Positive eugenics – attempts to improve ‘gene pool’ Negative eugenics – sterilisation, segregation in institutions, marriage restraints, immigration restrictions

Biological Positivism: A thing of the past?


Good Beauty and the Bad Beast
• Cavior and Howard (1973) •...
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